Equality Florida celebrates LGBT victories with the Tampa Gala as they look at dangerous road ahead in Tallahassee

By : Jeremy Williams
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Equality Florida looks to celebrate with 600 of their closest friends at the 10th Annual Tampa Gala at the TPepin’s Hospitality Centre Feb. 20.

“[The Tampa Gala] is one of 14 galas that Equality Florida hosts throughout the year,” says Mark Puskarich, Equality Florida’s Tampa Development Officer and Corporate Gift Manager. “These are times that we take to celebrate the progress made in LGBT equality and take a look at what’s on the horizon for the community.”

The Tampa Gala will kick off with a Sponsor’s Reception at 6:30 p.m. before the main event at 7:30 p.m. The cocktail style reception will have live music, open bars and catering by Puff ‘n Stuff, along with both live and silent auctions, proceeds from which will go back to support operations of Equality Florida.

Equality Florida will honor Ed Lally with the 2016 Voice for Equality Award at the gala. Lally, who has been the Development Officer for Equality Florida since 2009, will be retiring this month.

“He’s passionate and just a great person and has been working for LGBT equality since the 1980s,” Puskarich says.

Lally got started as a board member of the Tampa AIDS Network in 1986 helping to raise funds during a much needed period of the epidemic. He also worked to grow the presence of the Human Rights Campaign in the Tampa Bay area making it the 14th largest HRC Federal club in the country. The HRC named Lally volunteer of the year in 2006.

For the last 15 years, Lally has chaired the Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival’s annual launch party.

The event will also be an opportunity to let supporters know where we are as a community and what work Equality Florida is doing in Tallahassee. Equality Florida’s CEO Nadine Smith, fresh off her TIME.com article calling on the Florida Legislature to move forward with the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, will give a “state of the state” address where she is expected to speak about the Workforce Act as well as the other LGBT bills before the State House and Senate, both pro- and anti-gay bills.

“I’m not even sure she knows what she is going to talk about yet,” Puskarich says laughing. “I’m assuming she is going to be talking about [the Florida Competitive Workforce Act]. There might be something that happens between now and then that she might add in. I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty she will be speaking about it, though. This bill is a decade in the making, and it has never made it this far before.”

The Florida Competitive Workforce Act would offer protection to LGBT people in the state of Florida against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“It’s a really big deal; a lot of our folks are at the Capitol supporting this bill,” Puskarich says. “Some counties already have the protections, Hillsborough and Pinellas being two of them, but the entire state doesn’t have a blanket protection for LGBT folks, so we are looking at people in the community possibly getting fired from their job or being denied a hotel room or denied an apartment lease, all just because you are gay. That’s the big focus for us this year.”

Two days before the Tampa Gala, Equality Florida will be in Sarasota at The Circus Arts Conservatory for the Suncoast Equality Connection.

“We host these events throughout the state; I do three of them a year in the Hillsborough County area,” Puskarich says.

“These are more like member recruitment events where we go out into the community; they are usually at a local business, and we speak about Equality Florida’s work and how you can get involved. It’s a great way to connect with people who may not be familiar with Equality Florida and get them involved and educate them about the issues.”

Puskarich hopes that between the galas and connection events throughout the state, they will get enough support and people to stand with Equality Florida and the community as they push through a pivotal legislative session.

“The work we do is not just something that is good for the LGBT community, but it is something that is good and beneficial to the entire state,” Puskarich says. “When companies are looking to recruit the best talent to Florida or the young, bright talents are looking for a place to build and grow, they want to be in a state that is inclusive and doesn’t discriminate against anyone.”

The Tampa Gala is Feb. 20 at TPepin’s Hospitality Centre starting at 7:30 p.m.

The Suncoast Equality Connection is Feb. 18 at The Circus Arts Conservatory starting at 5:30 p.m.

Find more information on events, sponsorships and ticketing, visit EQFL.com.

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